Monday, 9 April 2012

Princess Paula to The Rescue! Paula Harrison on launching books, writing for younger readers and how to get that lucrative publishing deal...

by Maureen Lynas

Hi Maureen, thanks for having me on 
Notes from the Slushpile. 
I’m very excited to be here!
Welcome to Paula Harrison, our latest debut author, who has not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE books coming out this year. The Rescue Princess series is a great concept with lively characters and I'm desperate to emulate her amazing success. So I jumped at the chance to be the one to interview Paula for Notes From the Slushpile.

The Rescue Princesses are no ordinary Princesses. If there’s an animal in danger they’ll be there, ready to stage a daring rescue! With their ninja skills and magic jewels, they’re Princesses on a mission and nothing, except the occasional dress-fitting or curtseying lesson, will get in their way… Hang on to your tiaras and get ready for some right royal adventures!

Hi Paula, I've just seen an Open University dvd starring Working Partners editors who were having a planning meeting to come up with a new series. Everyone was pitching in with their ideas and they had the bones of an idea by the end of the session - a dog must find it's way home and come across problems on the way. I wondered how you'd come up with your series, the Rescue Princess. Did you draft in a team? Have a eureka moment in the bath? Or were you walking the dog?

Umm, well I don’t have a dog and I prefer showers to baths. To be honest, it’s quite a few years ago that I got the idea for the Rescue Princesses so it’s all a bit hazy now. In the past, I have occasionally sat down and brainstormed story ideas, but more often what happens is that something just clicks in my head. The initial concept just crash lands into my brain and that’s how it was with this idea. It arrived.

Then the more I thought about the idea the more I liked it. The princesses in my books are feisty and adventurous. They get to wear tiaras AND swing across ravines on the end of a rope.

I think 99% of what we do as writers is honing out skills and putting in the hard graft, so I love the fact that there’s this one tiny bit of the process that just happens by itself. I hope that’s not too lazy of me!

You don't have an agent so how did you go about the submission process? Multiple submissions?Accosted an editor at a conference?

I did submit to a smallish number of agents and publishers at the same time. You only need one to say yes! I’m so happy that the publisher that was interested was Nosy Crow. They have such a great ethos, with tremendous energy and vision. I love working with them.

Did you submit one book and Nosy Crow thought 'Aha! Series potential!' Or did you have a series planned out already and if so was this a synopsis, beat outline or a short pitch for each book? And how much input did the publishers want to have in the planning of the series once they'd taken it on?
I submitted one book and mentioned that I thought it had series potential. Then I submitted a series outline with short pitches for a number of other books. Nosy Crow wanted to meet up and talk it through. Their input into the series has been crucial.

For example, they were keen on having a story which showed how the Rescue Princesses got together in the first place. I hadn’t done this (even though my 6 year old had suggested it). So I tried writing it and now it’s the first book in the series.

Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow
Did Nosy Crow want to have stand alone books or is there a story arc continuing through the series?

There’s a story arc which links the first four books together and there’s another story arc linking books five to eight together. But it’s really something low key that links them up. They don’t have to be read in order.

The first of the Rescue Princess books is due out on the 4th April and five have been scheduled for publication already. I wondered what the timescale was from submission to publication and how much time you were given to write the next and the next and the next...

The deadlines have been reasonably tight but not overwhelming. I finished the re-draft of The Secret Promise, which is book one, last June.

Writing for this age group is difficult. You can be spot on with the interest level but get the reading level wrong. Do you have any tips for working with a limited vocabulary? How do you check the reading age? What's the word count for this age group?

Yes, it is difficult! And so much fun! But I’ve spent a number of years working as a primary school teacher either full or part time. Also I have two children who are primary school age and I try to read them a story every day. So really, I’ve been immersed in the world of a young reader for a while. I usually have an instinct for which vocabulary to use.

The Rescue Princesses are around 12,000 words and are broadly for ages 6 to 9. For a child reading alone though, I think they’d need to be 7 plus. I’m not really an expert on word counts, but I don’t think you’d want to go much longer than 12,000 for this age group.

At the moment publishers seem to be preferring series books to stand alone books for this age group? The books below are other Nosy Crow series books. Why do you think this is?

I think they like series because parents and children like them. Parents are trying to encourage their children to become independent readers at this age. So if their child enjoys something, they’re often willing to buy more of the books.

And my last question, or should I say personal plea - Any advice for authors writing for this age group?

Oh Maureen, you’re already a UV winner with an agent! I don’t think I’m going to say anything that you don’t already know! Okay, I’ll try to think of something…
Be prepared to try different ideas out and see what works. Look at things from a child’s point of view: what do they spend their time thinking about/ worrying about/ hoping for? I know it’s been said before, but it’s so vital to see things from their point of view.

Thanks so much, Paula. I'm sorry to have missed the launch but you were well supported by SCBWI members - I have pictures of the Royal Slushpile Family; Queen Candy, Princess Teri and Princess Jo who were wearing their sparkliest tiara's and crowns. I hope they curtsied properly, Maureen

A Real Rescue Princess!

Now, how did Teri Terry get in on the act!

Maureen Lynas also blogs on her own blog which she creatively named - Maureen Lynas


  1. Sorry to have missed the launch. I love the idea of this series, sounds so much like something I want to write. Will be looking out for them in the shops as I do want buy them. Not just for fun reading but market research as I have ideas for that age range and need to see what word counts for each page are.

  2. I love the Rescue Princesses so much - princesses with attitude! Excellent cape at the launch, too - I was very jealous of that...

  3. Good luck Paula! Your princesses sound wonderful and I am sure that little girls will love them.

  4. Thanks all! And Jo I may lend out the cape if suitably bribed...


    1. That's what I like to hear Paula! I'll have to arrange a party or something so I have an excuse...! I was quite attached to my crown, I have to say. Took some effort for sane people to detach that from my head...

    2. I quite got into my role! Was a bit of a shock to go back to normality. No more red carpets...until next time!

  5. Yet another wonderful and inspirational post. Thank you Maureen and congratulations Paula. They sound fantastic books.

  6. Paula, I will go and dust off my tiara and wear it for dinner this evening, in honour of the rescue princesses! (I may even rescue the dinner from the oven - or from the dog . . .)

  7. Brilliant, Queen Paula! Now I know what I want to be when I grow up.

  8. I'm a little girl and I LOVE the idea! can't wait to read the wholes series! Cognrats again to Princess Paula!

  9. Thanks for taking those great photos Candy!

  10. Any chance more Rescue Princess books will be released? We are dying for more!


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